December 1st. Today is World AIDS Day. I’ve no idea when this started or really what the hell it all means. I suppose it’s meant to be a day of awareness, perhaps compassion, education, etc. For the last 10 years I’ve attended an interfaith healing service on December 1. Similar services are held all over, but the one I attend is at an Episcopal church down the road from where I went to college. It’s a small church, but very active. I went there for a year or so while I was in school. I’m not Episcopalian, but I like to keep my options open. I was raised Catholic, but I defected when I was in my early teens and converted to Lutheranism. Over the years I’ve dipped my toe in many religions and traditions. Because really, how can I make an informed decision without knowing all the players? And what I’ve discovered is that I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I’m all about ecumenicalism. I joined some friends at the local synagogue for 2 years after reading the works of Rebbe Menachem Schneerson. Absolutely inspirational, that guy. I even frequented a Buddhist temple for a while. Because really? Monks? How bad-ass are they? Catholic monks are fine with their Gregorian chants and all, but Buddhist monks with their Shaolin martial arts? Yeah, they rock.
Anyway. The healing service. I’ve been going for 10 years. It has little to do with physical healing. I mean no one expects their T-cells to miraculously increase after getting hands laid on them or anything. It has much more to do with spiritual and emotional healing. For me, it’s always been a powerful fellowship. It’s a draining experience. Very emotional. The sermon usually revolves around educating on the disease; the emotion comes in with the laying on of hands. I’ve always found this practice to be especially extraordinary. I really have. The first couple of years I refused to go up and experience it. I stayed in the pew, head bowed, praying for those courageous enough to partake in the practice. A friend convinced me several years in to go up and just give myself over to it. I made my way slowly to the front and sat in the middle of a group of 5 or 6 ministers and lay people whose sole purpose at that moment was to make me feel human and to take on some of the pain. They asked if I was HIV positive and I said yes. I think it was the first time I had ever said it aloud. They put their hands on me—not something I’m usually comfortable with—and prayed. Hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop the tears. Sobs racked my body as these complete strangers embraced me without fear, without judgment, and prayed for me. I’d never before—or since—felt such loving contact. My grandmother was the only other person in my life who made me feel that I was worth loving. Had I ever been brave enough to tell her about my diagnosis before her death several years ago she would not have hesitated to wrap me a loving embrace. I’m sure of it. I wish I’d been brave enough. God I miss just being held.
So I went to the service tonight. I didn’t really want to go out. I haven’t been feeling well, and my lungs are still pretty messed up. Each inhalation of breath is accompanied by painful coughs and spasms. The last thing I wanted to do was bundle up against the cold and ride in the back of a cab for an hour to go to this service. But I did because I had to. I’m glad I went. I walked with some trepidation to the front of the church to receive the laying on of hands, and it was as powerful this time as in times past. This service was a little bittersweet. One of the men who runs the service became a good friend of mine over the years. Peter Jacobs was his name. Hell of a nice guy. He passed away 3 weeks ago. His absence was palpable and devastating. But his presence was felt in a far greater way. And that, I suppose, is where faith comes in.